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Scramble grows for private tuition

06-07-2009

Belfast Telegraph

Demand for private tutoring for primary school pupils is likely to grow as parents attempt to prepare their children for the new grammar entrance tests.

Six exam preparation courses for children in September and October at Queen’s University and Stranmillis University College are already full.

Twenty children have signed up for the three-hour sessions on Saturday mornings with P7 teachers and the course’s primary tutors are also booked up in some areas of the province for private one-to-one tuition costing £28 an hour.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said that private tutoring further disadvantages children from lower income families and Professor Tony Gallagher, head of the School of Education at Queen’s University, urged parents to trust primary teachers and principals rather than turn to paid coaching.

Simon McKee, from Helping Hand tutors, said: “A lot of our primary tutors are fully booked now in certain areas,” he added.

“Tuition can work as long as the tutor, the parent and the child are all working together. Much of the benefit comes from the reinforcement work given home for children to do. Children typically have tutoring for one hour a week after school.”

Frances Hamill is a mother of two from Larne and a member of Schools Transfer Options for Pupils (Stop) parents group. Her son is due to sit the new grammar tests in the autumn.

She said: “At this minute in time my son is not being coached. I have another son who went through the 11-plus a few years ago and he wasn’t coached either. However, given the current chaos with the system, I can understand why other families would turn to coaching to try and get back some sort of control of the situation.

“In Larne we have one grammar school so there will be a lot of competition for the places.

“You may want a tutor if your child’s school is doing just the bare minimum while other schools are holding summer classes and sessions after school. There is such a wide variation in the preparation by primary schools.”

Professor Gallagher said: “The best evidence we have is that between a third and a half of pupils received paid for out-of-school coaching for the old 11-plus exams. Most primary school principals thought this added to the pressure on children and exacerbated the social inequities that already existed in the 11-plus system.

“Now that grammar schools have decided to run their own selection tests, primary schools no longer have any formal role to play in the process and many |have decided not to provide |additional coaching.

“The uncertainties facing parents is likely to encourage more to seek out-of-school coaching and, no doubt, some budding entrepreneurs will seek to exploit these concerns by printing ‘practice tests’. Whether these will be of any real value is in doubt, as they are entirely new tests, with no past papers and few exemplars on which to base preparation.

“Primary teachers are entirely committed to their pupils and will deliver the revised curriculum to the best of their ability — it is hard to think of any better preparation the children could receive in the transition from primary to post-primary school.

“My best advice is to trust the primary teachers and principals.”

Ms Ruane said: “Testing children at the age of 10 or 11 for the purpose of determining admission to post primary school is |totally wrong.

“The old system clearly created inequality as the facts show children living in well off areas are much more likely to gain admission to a grammar school than those living in more disadvantaged areas.

“Private tutoring further disadvantages children from lower income families and only serves the needs of those who can afford to support the industry that has grown up around tutoring. Children should be able to access the education they are fully entitled to, rather than just the education they can afford.

“It is important for children to have free time to play and build friendships rather than endure the pressure tutoring imposes.”

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